Aboard a cruise ship called ‘Carnival Dream,’ a veritable floating city, we shared the fourteen storeys or decks with some four thousand other passengers Our route took us from New Orleans, down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and several Caribbean islands. From conversations with some of our fellow-passengers we learned that many were veterans of several cruises – fifteen or even twenty in some cases. We were among the few for whom this was their first cruise, and I must say that I can understand how one can become addicted to cruising. Every luxury is available, from non-stop dining to round-the-clock boozing, gambling, swimming, room service and entertainment of every kind. For us the highlights were the shore excursions and a very English-style tea-time, with triangular cucumber sandwiches and other delicacies, accompanied by a string trio playing a selection of light classics (and requests). I was tempted to ask for ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic,’ as I used to in my childhood when my parents took me to Lyon’s Corner House, but feared the players (all from Buenos Aires) might not have known it.
Apart from enjoying the ship’s amenities, the fine dining in the evening and the ministrations of our cabin steward during the day, the shore excursions to Montego Bay in Jamaica, Grand Cayman Island and Xcaret Park in Mexico enabled us to experience, however briefly, different cultures and ways of life. Unfortunately, we also had to do our best to avoid the various shopping centres to which we were taken. The visit to the tropical park at Xcaret was unique in this respect, with a minimum of commerce and the opportunity to engage directly with Mexicao’s heritage as well as gorgeous flora and fauna, including tropical birds, animals and butterflies, and even the chance to swim in an underground river.
But most of all, the cruise experience enabled us to see what makes America (and Americans) tick. The answer is Fun, and that is what the ship provided, in spades. It was apparent that not all the passengers on board were wealthy or even prosperous, but had scrimped and saved to be able to enjoy a week of unbridled eating, dancing, gambling and entertainment, and were determined to enjoy every minute. The ship’s large casino was invariably full of people of all ages, sizes, ethnicities and means. Quite a large number of those on board were greatly overweight, even obese. But not to worry, medical services were also available, though I didn’t hear of any emergencies (though that doesn’t mean that there weren’t any). The entertainment provided – the printed schedule was distributed to all passengers daily – ran a dizzying gamut from stand-up comedy to Broadway shows, karaoke sessions, special meetings for singles and LGBTs, competitions and quizzes.
The atmosphere on board was cheerful in the extreme. In fact, the general air of bonhomie engendered by the incessant smiling and greeting dutifully undertaken by every single member of the (considerable) staff quickly rubbed off onto the passengers. Thus, every time one entered an elevator one was greeted with enthusiasm by the other passengers. Eventually we came to behave in the same way, and upon returning to land it was hard to get used to the idea of not welcoming people into every elevator or greeting every passing stranger.
Throughout the day food of every kind was provided on the deck devoted to this sphere, with some dishes being prepared on the spot. These ranged from the station known as Mongolian Wok – where the diner chooses from an array of vegetables which ones the (genuine Mongolian) chef should prepare for him or her – to a selection of Italian and other national dishes, as well as a burger bar (where there was always a queue) and salads, side dishes and desserts of every imaginable kind. Naturally, tea and coffee were available throughout the day and night.
Dinner in the evening was a more formal affair, where one had an assigned table and seating time, a menu that was different every day and a bevy of waiters who attended to one’s every need. On some evenings music was broadcast in between the courses and the waiters promptly took up their positions and danced to it. Some of the waiters were excellent dancers, but even those who weren’t made an admirable attempt to put on something of a show for us bemused diners. On the last night of the cruise the master of ceremonies introduced the various head chefs to the enthusiastic audience, and each one got a round of applause, after which all the dozens of kitchen staff appeared and together all sang the John Denver song ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane,’ which makes me smile now whenever I think of it (it doesn’t get played much on the classical music radio stations I listen to).
Cruising provides a vacation that combines relaxation with the chance to go and see different cultures while being pampered and cosseted in every possible way. And if one doesn’t feel like getting out and about to go ashore, there’s always one of the swimming pools or lounges, the casino, the spa, or even the library, where one can go and relax.
Or just go up to the food deck and get something to eat.